September 7, 2018

Religious Education Supplement

Personal approach is needed to form children to be received into Church’s family of faith

Father Todd Goodson baptizes Guadalupe Vasquez on April 15, 2017, during a celebration of the Easter Vigil at St. Monica Church in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis West Deanery faith community annually welcomes dozens of children into the full communion of the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults adapted for children. (Submitted photo)

Father Todd Goodson baptizes Guadalupe Vasquez on April 15, 2017, during a celebration of the Easter Vigil at St. Monica Church in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis West Deanery faith community annually welcomes dozens of children into the full communion of the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults adapted for children. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

In these final words of Christ to his Apostles before he ascended to heaven, the Church was given its mission that continues to this day.

A principal way parishes across central and southern Indiana have fulfilled this mission since the Second Vatican Council has been through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in which adults are formed to be received into the full communion of the Church.

Catechetical leaders in these same parishes often have to adapt the way this formation takes place when the people who seek to be received into the Church are children or teenagers.

The Church already offers adaptations for children of the various rites in RCIA. But catechetical leaders need to have some flexibility to meet the young people and their parents who come to them with a variety of learning levels and on their own unique faith journey in order to prepare them to be lifelong missionary disciples of Christ in the Church.

That was a message given to catechetical leaders across the archdiocese during an Aug. 4 workshop on RCIA adapted for children that took place at St. Agnes Parish in Nashville.

Lucas Pollice, director of the master of arts in leadership for the new evangelization at the Augustine Institute, located in Greenwood Village, Colo., was the presenter at the workshop.

“It is going to stretch us,” Pollice said. “These times in the Church are, by their nature, going to stretch us. So we have to be willing to adapt and find workable situations with the people that come to us and, at the same, being faithful to what the Church teaches and the vision of catechesis and formation that it has as well.”

Some parishes are more stretched than others in meeting this challenge.

St. Michael Parish in Bradford has children and youths seeking to be received into the Church in spurts, a handful one year and maybe none for a couple of more, says Deacon John Jacobi, the New Albany Deanery faith community’s director of religious education (DRE).

He said he and his team of catechists put the focus on helping the entire family. Often the parents of the children being formed are Catholic who are returning to the practice of the faith after being away from it for many years. So Deacon Jacobi wants to help put the whole family on a firm footing to live out the faith for years to come.

“We’ve made it more of a family process, because many times the parents are kind of eager for an updating as well,” Deacon Jacobi said. “So much of RCIA is a journey where you’re walking together toward a goal of faith. When you can do that as a family, it’s a wonderful avenue for catechesis, ministry and life-sharing.”

Meeting parents who are coming back to the Church and having children received into it requires a good amount of personal ministry, says Paulette Davis, administrator of religious education at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle.

“I really try to connect one-on-one with them, because I’m kind of their first experience with anyone that’s going to talk with them about faith, God and the Church,” said Davis. “That’s so important. They’re a little uncomfortable with coming to church on a regular basis, and you’re trying to make them feel more comfortable.”

Anne Corcoran values that one-on-one approach, too. But making sure it happens at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, where she serves as a pastoral associate, is a particularly difficult challenge since the Indianapolis West Deanery faith community has welcomed dozens of families from a variety of cultural backgrounds into the Church each year at its annual Easter Vigil.

“We could be just like a sacrament mill,” Corcoran said. “We’re trying not to be that, and to be personal instead. That’s a huge nightmare administratively. But it’s very fruitful to have that one-on-one contact.”

Difficult though it may be at times, Corcoran also sees the challenge as a great blessing.

“The whole approach of trying to meet people where they are and make it work for every person is the most challenging thing,” she said. “But it’s also the most rewarding. Continually having parishioners who are strong in their faith be the ones who are walking with these people is a very hard approach.”

In order to have a more personal approach and to help children and parents be received into the Church and continue practicing their faith into the future, Pollice recommends that parishes extend the formation of children and parents beyond the typical nine-month period for RCIA that basically follows an academic year.

“This isn’t sufficient time to do the holistic formation that we need to do, not only with the children, but with the whole family to really help them grow roots that are deep,” Pollice said. “We don’t just want to get these people to the Easter Vigil. We want to make them lifelong missionary disciples.”

Corcoran agrees and is seeking to extend the length of St. Monica’s program in the future.

“Nine months is just not enough for the kids and their families to come from no church attendance and no religious education to trying to become Catholic,” she said.

No matter if a parish experiences only a handful of children seeking to be received into the Church from year to year or if there are dozens of families coming forward, doing the hard work of ministry of welcoming them has tremendous benefits, says Deacon Jacobi.

“It’s such a blessing to be able to walk with people in their journey of faith,” he said. “But when you see a whole family come into the Church together or you see parents coming back to the faith and children receiving the faith, as a DRE, it’s a beautiful thing to witness.” †

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